Children of conflict bear the brunt

By Fahad Shah

Ten-year-old Hafiz Parvez  wants to attend school but deems the freedom struggle even important. “I want to see Independent Kashmir then I will go school. Yeman bicharen lagevikh gool (they fired on these innocent fellows),” he said after his three neighbors were shot at by security forces.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir has been convulsed by a wave of protests since June this year, triggered by the death of a school student at the hands of police. Protests have been largely peaceful but their characteristic is stone-throwing. Protesting youth take to streets and cast stones on paramilitary forces and local police. Their stone-throwing action reminds one of Palestinian Intifada. But young protesting men are often joined by children as well as women.

Hafiz Parvez lives in a Srinagar suburban area, Soura, where stone-throwing has become a daily occurrence of late. He sneaks out to watch protesting youth while his mother chases him to get him back home. Almost, daily. There is a poster pasted on the electric pole just outside of his family home. Hafiz points his little index finger and says, “See what they did in Dargah”. The poster informs the public that there were no prayers in the Dargah Hazratbal Shrine. It was closed for some days during the month of Ramadan. The shrine-crisis started when the armed police, manning the shrine, opened fire on the devotees who were shouting pro-freedom slogans, injuring at least 30.

Hafiz has been so active in these protests that he claims to know the man who opens fire. “It’s DSP, Yadavm,” he claims (Yadav is Deputy Superintendent of Central Reserve Police Force in his area). “I want to throw stones. It’s the only thing now I can do but I am scared,” he says. His name also appeared on the stone-throwers’ list at the local police station. Only when his mother went to police station and pleaded before the Station House Officer, his name was removed.

Everyday causalities have deeply affected the children. They are undergoing a change. Poems have been replaced by anti-India slogans and school schedules by resistance ‘timetable’ issued by separatist group, Hurriyat (G). Children are increasingly visible during stone throwing protests, sit-ins, marches, night-protests, and internet.

Medical Suprintendent of Medical Institute Hospital, Soura, Dr. Amin Tabish says children are traumatized by the unrest, mainly curfew. “Children want to go out but curfew confines them to a limited space which causes depression and psychological strains. They become arrogant and get off from their learning point, schools or colleges,” he told The Kashmir Walla.

Long absence from school means that memories of morning school anthems like “we shall overcome” are slowly fading away. Fifteen-year-old Abrar, for instance, now enthusiastically  sings Everlast’s “Stones in my hand” and watches protest videos on Youtube. He however is disillusioned by the division among the ranks of separatists forces. “I think we are not fighting in unison for a common cause”, he says.

More and more resort to outlets available through social media. The number of young Facebook users has increased since the protests erupted. The ongoing movement has built a good audience on social media. To vent their anger, children post every kind of message related to the Azadi (freedom) sentiment on social networking sites. Messages are often lucid.

“I think kashmiris should now take guns in their hands in place of stones as the blood of kashmiris is running out,”  advocates a post by 16-year-old boy, Aamir Afzal (name changed) on his Facebook wall. Though he stays home whole day yet he aspires to go out and cast stones. His parents disapprove of his intentions. “I want to throw stones but my parents are scared of the consequences,” he says.

Death toll in five-month-long protests in the Valley has crossed 113. The children are deeply moved when they hear stories like the death of 17-year-old Omar Qayoom Bhat. A class 11 student, Omar was allegedly tortured in police custody. He died on August 24, at around 3 pm, three days after his arrest.

He was lone son of his parents. His father, Abdul Qayoom Bhat, is an employee with Waqf Board and has three daughters. Hospital death certificate shows the cause of death as respiratory hypertension with severely deranged blood gases, diffuse intra-pulmonary hemorrhage and blunt trauma on chest.

His father says Omar was brutally tortured in police custody and police did not release him even after district magistrate approved the bail. “I went to police station on August 21 where my son told me to take him to hospital. He was weeping while he said police and CRPF had beaten him severely and gave electric shocks,” Qayoom says.

Omar raised pro-freedom slogans, got arrested and succumbed to his injuries at a local hospital. It is hard to say how many children will be scared away from this 63-year-old conflict. One thing is for sure, however: a junior rebellion is also slowly but surely emerging in Kashmir.

[Also published in Viewpoint and Pakistaniaat Forum]

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